Part 1: Building A Balanced Gaming PC

Motherboards

Motherboards

Although our main focus in this series is on balance between the CPU and GPU, there’s obviously a lot more hardware involved in procuring respectable performance from your platform of choice. For our purposes, we built our test systems around five enthusiast-class motherboards from Asus, picked for their stability, overclocking capabilities, and PCI Express connectivity, enabling ATI CrossFireX and/or Nvidia SLI support. 

LGA 1366: Asus Rampage II Extreme

The Asus Rampage II Extreme is based on Intel’s X58 Express chipset, and will be used throughout this series for our LGA 1366 platform.

This feature-packed motherboard is part of the Asus RoG (Republic of Gamers) series, and was designed with the overclocking community in mind. This works out well for us, since two of our upcoming balanced platform pieces will center on the effects of overclocking.

The three 16-lane PCIe 2.0 expansion slots support x16/x16 operation or x16/x8/x8 CrossFireX and SLI. The six DIMM slots support triple-channel DDR3-1800 (overclocked) and DDR3-1600 memory. A few of the other notable features unique to Asus' lineup include TweakIT (joystick-like overclocking control), ProbeIt (eight on-board detection points), Extreme Engine with ML Cap Design (the company's multi-phase power management system with multi-layer polymer caps), a SupremeFX X-Fi eight-channel audio card, and an external LCD Poster. 

LGA 775: Asus Rampage Formula

We use the Asus Rampage Formula for any LGA 775-based testing aside from the Nvidia SLI configurations, which you'll see in an upcoming episode of this series.

Based on the Intel X48 Express chipset, this RoG-series motherboard has two 16-lane PCIe 2.0 slots supporting x16/x16 CrossFire operation and four DIMM slots supporting dual-channel DDR2-1200 (overclocked) and DDR2-1066 memory.

Overclocking-friendly features include Voltminder LED status reminders (essentially, a red-line equivalent for voltage), COP EX OC protection, loadline calibration (stabilizing CPU voltage under load), and cooling via the pin-fin thermal module. A SupremeFX II eight-channel audio card and external LCD poster are also part of the bundle. 

LGA 775: Asus P5N72-T Premium

Based on the Nvidia nForce 780i SLI chipset and boasting two 16-lane PCIe 2.0 slots (plus one first-gen PCIe 16x slot), the Asus P5N72-T Premium supports 3-way Nvidia SLI technology (three cards at x16 signaling). This LGA 775 motherboard has four DIMM slots supporting dual-channel DDR2-1200 (overclocked) and DDR2-1066. Plus, it comes bundled with the RoG Supreme FX II audio card.

Socket AM3: Asus Crosshair III Formula

At the heart of this series' Socket AM3 testing is Asus' Crosshair III Formula, based on AMD’s 790FX/SB750 chipset combination. Four DIMM slots support dual-channel DDR3-1600 (overclocked) and DDR3-1333 memory settings, while two 16-lane PCIe 2.0 expansion slots support x16/x16 ATI CrossFireX technology.

Asus-specific features for this RoG-series enthusiast motherboard include MemOK (a memory compatibility tool), CPU Level Up (a simplified overclocking utility), TweakIT, a SupremeFX X-Fi eight-channel audio card, and an external LCD poster. 

Socket AM3: Asus M4N82 Deluxe

The Asus M4N82 Deluxe will be put to use when it comes time to test dual GeForce cards in SLI paired up to our three Socket AM3 processors.

Based on the Nvidia nForce 980a SLI chipset, this Socket AM2+ motherboard has three 16-lane PCIe 2.0 slots supporting two cards in a x16 configuration or three at x8 signaling. The board has an 8+1 power phase design, four DIMM slots supporting dual-channel DDR2-1200 (overclocked) and DDR2-1066. It also include eight-channel integrated sound.

Special thanks to Asus for arranging the motherboards needed to make this entire series possible.

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    Top Comments
  • winner4455
    I see a great series coming
  • osse
    This is good, this must be the first time in computer history things are beeing done right. And this is sure the best way i ever seen a review done, in my 18 yrs as an entusiastic computer builder. Looking forward to all the updates to come.
  • Other Comments
  • yoy0yo
    Wow, this is an amazingly in depth review! I kinda feel that its sponsered by Asus or Corsair, but I guess you kept with the same brand for the sake of controls etc.

    Thankyou!
  • winner4455
    I see a great series coming
  • inmytaxi
    Very helpful stuff.

    I'd like to see some discussion on the availability of sub $400 (at times as low as $280) 28" monitors. At this price range, does it make more sense to spend more on the LCD even if less is spent initially on graphics? I would think the benefit of 28" vs. 22" is so great that the extra money could be taken from, say, a 9550 + 4890 combo and getting a 8400/6300 + 4850 instead, with the right motherboard a second 4850 later will pass a 4890 anyway.
  • frozenlead
    I like the balance charts. It's a good way to characterize the data. This article is well constructed and well thought-out.

    That being said - is there a way we can compile this data and compute an "optimized" system for the given hardware available? Finding the true, calculated sweet spot for performance/$ would be so nice to have on hand every quarter or twice a year. I'll have to think about this one for a while. There may be some concessions to make, and it might not even work out. But it would be so cool.
  • ghost111
    Nice one.Now i want to see part two.
  • Neggers
    I feel like the person that did this review got it finished alittle bit late. I can only assume he did all the testing some months back and has only just finished writing up his results. But its sad to not see the new P55/i5 Systems, AMD Athlon II Quad Cores, or the Radeon 5000 series.

    Good review, but hopefully it can be updated soon with some of the newer equipment thats out, to turn it into a fantastic guide for people.
  • brockh
    Great job, this is the information people need to be seeing; the way people provide benchmarks these days hardly tells the story to most of the readers. It's definitely important to point out the disparities in ones CPU choice, rather than just assuming everyone uses the i7 all the sites choose. ;)

    Looking forward to part 2.
  • sinny1
    wow! Awesome works! Can't wait til you guys get to the ATI 5000 series. Keep it up! :)
  • Onyx2291
    This will take up some of my time. Even though I know how, it's nice to get a refresher every now and then.
  • mohsh86
    you are really kidding me by not considering the ATI 5000 series, although am a fan of nvidia , but this is not fair !
  • scook9
    amazing article....one of the best I have seen in a long time (from any site)

    you all deserve a raise :)
  • anamaniac
    Very nice.

    The picture on the first page is better than any porno I've ever seen!
  • evolve60
    Quote:
    Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 (Yorkfield) 2.66 GHz, LGA 775, FSB-1333, 12MB L2 cache
    I'm pretty sure that its the Q9450/9400 is the one that runs at 2.66 GHz The Q9550 runs at 2.83 GHz.
  • liquidsnake718
    It took me roughly an hour and a half to read this article at work. Wow these are the types of tests and in depth articles that I’ve been waiting for. Its been about a month to two months since we’ve had such a deep study. The System Builder Marathon reviews and tests were great. The best GPU’s per price/performance are lacking and basic comparisons while this article shows us the true value and capabilities of certain GPU’s and CPU’s.

    Im however perplexed that the once good 4850 which is compared to my 9800GTX+ is deemed a weaker GPU now. I thought the Far Cry 2 tests shown in previous TOMs comparisons garnerd higher frame rates? I know that the systems were comparable.... Anyway keep up the good work and this is a Quality comparison/chart/review.
  • Saiyanz
    This is a great review that people who are building pc's actual need to see.

    I was quite surprised by the power of the HD4890. It thumped the GTX285 and more powerful cards when using a dual core CPU. Even in Crysis which always seemed like it favoured Nvidia cards in past reviews. It is probably that the previous reviews all used overclocked quad cores and/or the ATI drivers have really improved.

    It also seems as though the Nvidia cards need a more powerful CPU in order to get equivalent performance to the ATI cards.
  • Bloodblender
    It's just these kind of articles that make TH shine over the other sites. Well done!
  • astrodudepsu
    Looking forward to the rest of the series. Well done.
  • skora
    Thank you Paul and team for sacrificing many weeks on this project. Its great to have something to point at and say this is why you shouldn't do that. It will be great to be able do direct price/performance comparison for the same results of a less expensive OC'd system and stock system.

    Can't wait for the rest!!!!!

    Also, whats the chance of getting a how to run you're own benchmarks article so we can test our systems against yours using the same method?
  • osse
    This is good, this must be the first time in computer history things are beeing done right. And this is sure the best way i ever seen a review done, in my 18 yrs as an entusiastic computer builder. Looking forward to all the updates to come.
  • masterjaw
    My PC says 'bring in the part 2'. Is this would be a series also like the best GPU/CPU?